Monday, September 01, 2008

New Year's Day 1968: A Quiet but Invincible Optimism

1 January 1968

I suppose I am risking snow blindness in looking out our glass doors onto the snow covered hill behind our house, but I am in a mood which I like to think of as a reverie, and so I stare out. What I see is not much besides the blinding whiteness: the deep blue of a noontime sky; shadowy geometries cast on the snow by the children's "swing set"; the observation platform, ladder, and fringed canopy that are a part of the swing set itself. A static scene, except for the movement of two thin icicles swinging from the canopy, reminding me of the tinsel "rain" on the Christmas tree. A moment ago, a dried oak leaf glided erratically over the snow crest looking like a frail piece of abstract sculpture foraging for a meaning, then it passed beyond sight.

Except for the cold and wind, I should enjoy planting the Christmas tree today. The sun and sky seem to have touched me with a quiet but invincible optimism: despite having been uprooted a week before Christmas and kept until a week after Christmas in a warm house, somehow it will survive the shock of having been replanted (in a new location) this 15-degree day. And I know that, despite the cold, I will get the tree planted today. This is what I mean by invincible optimism. In other years I should have left the tree in the garage for a day or so -- letting the tree get accustomed to the cold, I would tell the world -- before planting it. Today I don't feel the need for any such evasion: I shall go out there within the hour, not joyfully, perhaps, but but at least without hesitation. A third tree shall commemorate a "live tree" Christmas at this house. Some day, I suppose, our custom must come to a stop; we shall run out of space. But today is a day to dwell only on infinite possibilities.

The snow on the back hill is as new and unmarked as the year. It is a part of this optimism I feel that the year, like the hill, will be marked most conspicuously by footsteps taken in pursuit of the pleasures of human society. Half a day old, at the moment, the year is like a blank slate -- or rather, like an untracked hillside. Each will eventually be erased -- the one by time, the other by time's vicar the sun, and each will have been touched and marked by signs of quest, play, duty, or futility. But surely those ventures of compassionate and hungry human associations will leave marks upon the snows of the year that even the most intensive cross-trackings can never quite efface. Events of the past year have shown this to be a sound expectation.


Blogger Asher Abrams said...

My father might well have been thinking of Robert Frost's poem "Good-by and Keep Cold" when he wrote this. Frost (who died on January 29, 1963 - the day before I was born) was a mainstay of our family's poetic repertoire, and "Good-by and Keep Cold" was read regularly in our house.

The hill in back of our house at 812 Avery Street was quite steep, and in the winter the snow would sometimes glaze over with a crust of ice. For us kids it was exciting to pretend we were mountain climbers, perhaps using one of Dad's gardening tools as an "ice pick" to gain a purchase in our snowsuits. The hill also invited reflection on another Frost poem, "Brown's Descent".

The custom of using live trees at Christmas continued for many years. I don't remember where we planted those trees, but it seemed we always found a corner on the half-acre of suburban property for another Douglas fir.

Eventually, my father and I both converted to Judaism; I was in my young adult years by that time.

But even in my last visits to the house and yard where I grew up - after my father had died in 2000, and my mother in 2003 - I would still find strands of grey, discolored mylar clinging to the bushes in a remote corner of the yard. It was the tinsel from those Christmases of long ago.

6:44 PM  
Blogger Asher Abrams said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

6:55 PM  
Blogger Asher Abrams said...

As far as I know, my father did not keep a diary. This solitary "journal entry" was written in fiber-point pen on the back of two sheets of scrap paper stapled together. The reverse side bears an English assignment in purple mimeographed writing, probably from a course my father had taught at Bulkeley High School in Hartford.

7:07 PM  

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